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Adults Need Vaccines Too
By Nancy Kennedy

Mandy MichaelVaccinations are generally associated with childhood, but adults need vaccinations, too. They are an essential component of preventive care and healthy living. Most adults are not getting the vaccinations they need, however, and this is of great concern to public health officials, physicians and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Vaccines are one of the greatest success stories in human history. Before they were developed in the middle of the last century, contagious infectious diseases like smallpox were the leading cause of death, wiping out entire populations at times. Smallpox has been eradicated by vaccines and polio is greatly diminished, but it’s a mistake to think that we no longer need vaccines. The very effectiveness of vaccines means that we no longer see diseases that were dreaded by our parents and grandparents, but those diseases still exist, and in this age of globalization, they travel easily. Epidemics still happen, all over the world.

In the U.S., some diseases such as measles are unfortunately making a comeback. Misinformation about vaccine safety and lack of understanding about the importance of vaccines have produced low rates of vaccination among adults, says the CDC. This has consequences for individuals, families and communities. Even when a disease has become rare, high rates of vaccination have to be maintained in order to prevent outbreaks. As long as most people in a community are vaccinated, an outbreak of a disease is unlikely. This is known as herd immunity and it is essential for the protection of those who are most vulnerable: newborns, the elderly, people of all ages whose immunity is compromised, and those who cannot be vaccinated.

Vaccine-preventable diseases include chicken pox, diphtheria, influenza, hepatitis A and B, measles, meningococcal disease, mumps, pertussis, rubella, shingles, tetanus and human papilloma virus. Every year, 42,000 adults and 300 children die from these diseases. Vaccine-preventable diseases can have terrible consequences: for example, measles can cause severe illness and even death; shingles can lead to blindness and lifelong pain.

The current CDC recommendations are that all adults should receive an annual flu vaccine. In addition, all adults should get Td/Tdap (tetanus-diphtheria, tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis) if they are unvaccinated or if their vaccine history is unknown; Td boosters are recommended every ten years and sometimes in the event of a wound. Beyond those, individual needs are determined by a host of factors: age, lifestyle, occupation, existing health conditions, previous vaccination history and travel habits. Every year, the CDC updates their recommendations and this information is easily accessed at www.cdc.gov.

Mandy Michael, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at St. Clair Hospital, says that vaccinations are an important form of self-care as well as a way of caring for your family, neighbors, co-workers and community. “For those who have chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease or lung disease, vaccinations are especially important, as these conditions, even when well-managed, make one more vulnerable to complications. Vaccines are safe, effective and available. Talk to your PCP about your vaccination history and get the vaccines you need. Do it for yourself; do it for your loved ones.”

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